“You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family.” Harper Lee’s words from her iconic novel, To Kill A Mocking Bird, have resounded through history. This sentiment shows up in poems and movies and even everyday life as we consider the people who are closest to us and how we have been seemingly thrown together to navigate this world. Family. We are born, raised, and shaped by this group, whether large or small. Their markings follow us, no matter where we end up.
I used to agree with Harper’s sentiment of being unable to choose family. I thought my place in my family was simply a result of being born, getting a birth certificate, and having a name attached to my scrawny and wrinkly body. I didn’t do much and bam: I am a part of the Bracher family.
Not by choice.
I am considering another point of view.
On December 7, 2019, I gathered with my immediate and extended family to lay to rest my amazing grandmother, Bettye Bracher. There we stood, hands held, eyes wet., honoring a lady who had touched our lives collectively and individually in the most profound of ways. She loved us all. We were her pride and joy. We were her laughter and light. Somehow, from the youngest of great-grandchildren to the oldest child, we each knew our special place from her point of view. We were all her favorites and we all knew it.
So we gathered together. We traveled long or from close by. We hugged and cried. We laughed and recounted memories. Because we are a family, despite time and distance and age. We have changed but we are the same. We have aged but we remain united. This is the power of belonging to a family.
No matter where you go in life, you are still connected. You are still a piece. You still belong.
Your name says so.
You are called. You are important. You. Are. Chosen.
Before the siblings and cousins and grandchildren and great-grandchildren existed for my particular family, there was one man and one woman. They were neighbors. They were friends. Then, one fine day, they picked each other and said, “Let’s do this life together.” So, they got married.
Raymond and Bettye Bracher chose each other. Then, they went on to choose Diane, Dennis, Sarah, John, Fred, Max, Lynn, Scott, Tarah, Jennifer, Jason, Amy…..
Are you following yet?
Family isn’t by chance. Family isn’t random. Family isn’t a lottery.
Family is chosen.
In love. By love. For love.
This is the missing piece to our messy world. We are on our Smartphones, checking Instagram and Facebook for hearts and likes. We are working long hours for a place in a career that we hope will fill that hole we seek. We rush around making plans and going to dinners and watching movies and reaching for the next entertainment to distract us. But the whole time someone is waiting on the other end of the phone, the other side of the street, the other side of a table, for us to reach across and engage and talk and love. We need to express to each other that we are not forsaken or alone.
Family is close by.
It doesn’t matter if you share the same last name or not.
My grandpa never met a stranger. He would always talk to people on park benches restaurants, and airplanes. My grandma always warmly welcomed anyone she encountered. Their influence in their community was evident since at both their funerals people lined up out the door to pay their respects.
People recognize the open arms of a family. People long for home. People need love.
My grandparents knew this. So, they chose love over and over and over again. They didn’t have to. They had their share of trials and hardships and toils, but they decided that love would be the theme of their life. Love would reign supreme.
Sure, some of the family traits we inherit may not be what we would have chosen for ourselves (thank you Bracher genes for my large hips ) but connection and love is the point.
My husband and I are currently in the process of becoming foster parents with the hopes of adopting. We are looking forward to giving some kids a chance to choose us as a family. We can’t wait to tell them how loved they are, how wanted they are, and how they belong with us. We chose our first baby, Rafael, and we also chose them.
And then, I want to take them back to Indiana where Raymond and Bettye Bracher built a strong family on farmland owned by the Bracher family for over 150 years. We will stand on the furtile soil and retell stories of love and laughter. We will tell them that Bettye would have said they were her favorite. We will say that she loved them. We will say she chose them.
Because I think she did. I think you can choose your family, just like you choose your friends.
Today, in honor of Bettye, I am choosing my own family: my husband, Thomas and my son, Rafael. I am choosing my parents, Dennis and Lynn, and my siblings Michael and Andrea and David and Jamie, and their children Nina and Ivan and Ashlynn. I am choosing my niece Aly.
I am choosing them, out of the rest of the world, to know my love and my protection and my undying loyality.
And above all else, I want them each to know:
They are my favorite.
P.S. I love you, Mammaw.